Posts Tagged ‘vintage prints

01
May
17

Exhibition: ‘The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection’ at Tate Modern, London

Exhibition dates: 10th November 2016 – 7th May 2017

 

Many thankx to Tate Modern for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see one of the world’s greatest private collections of photography, drawn from the classic modernist period of the 1920s-50s. An incredible group of Man Ray portraits are exhibited together for the first time, having been brought together by Sir Elton John over the past twenty-five years, including portraits of Matisse, Picasso, and Breton. With over 70 artists and nearly 150 rare vintage prints on show from seminal figures including Brassai, Imogen Cunningham, André Kertész, Dorothea Lange, Tina Modotti, and Aleksandr Rodchenko, this is a chance to take a peek inside Elton John’s home and delight in seeing such masterpieces of photography.”

Text from the Tate Modern website

 

Paul Strand. 'Wall Street, New York' 1915

 

Paul Strand
Wall Street, New York
1915
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

 

Tate Modern presents a major new exhibition, The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection, drawn from one of the world’s greatest private collections of photography. This unrivalled selection of classic modernist images from the 1920s to the 1950s features almost 200 works from more than 60 artists, including seminal figures such as Berenice Abbott, André Kertész, Man Ray, Alexandr Rodchenko and Edward Steichen among many others. The exhibition consists entirely of rare vintage prints, all created by the artists themselves, offering a unique opportunity to see remarkable works up close. The quality and depth of the collection allows the exhibition to tell the story of modernist photography in this way for the first time in the UK. It also marks the beginning of a long term relationship between Tate and The Sir Elton John Collection, as part of which Sir Elton and David Furnish have agreed to give important works to the nation.

The Radical Eye introduces a crucial moment in the history of photography – an exciting rupture often referred to as the ‘coming of age’ of the medium, when artists used photography as a tool through which they could redefine and transform visions of the modern world. Technological advancements gave artists the freedom to experiment and test the limits of the medium and present the world through a new, distinctly modern visual language. This exhibition reveals how the timeless genres of the portrait, nude and still life were reimagined through the camera during this period, also exploring photography’s unique ability to capture street life and architecture from a new perspective.

Featuring portraits of great cultural figures of the 20th century, including Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston by Tina Modotti, Jean Cocteau by Berenice Abbott and Igor Stravinsky by Edward Weston, the exhibition gives insight into the relationships and inner circles of the avant-garde. An incredible group of Man Ray portraits are exhibited together for the first time, having been brought together by Sir Elton John over the past twenty-five years, depicting key surrealist figures such as Andre Breton and Max Ernst alongside artists including Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar. Ground-breaking experimentation both in the darkroom and on the surface of the print, such as Herbert Bayer’s photomontage and Maurice Tabard’s solarisation, examine how artists pushed the accepted conventions of portraiture.

As life underwent rapid changes in the 20th century, photography offered a new means to communicate and represent the world. Alexandr Rodchenko, László Moholy-Nagy and Margaret Bourke-White employed the ‘worm’s eye’ and ‘bird’s eye’ views to create new perspectives of the modern metropolis – techniques associated with constructivism and the Bauhaus. The move towards abstraction is also explored, from isolated architectural elements to camera-less photography such as Man Ray’s rayographs and Harry Callahan’s light abstractions.

A dedicated section of the exhibition looks at the new approaches that emerged in capturing the human form, highlighted in rare masterpieces such as André Kertész’s Underwater Swimmer, Hungary 1917, while Imogen Cunningham’s Magnolia Blossom, Tower of Jewels 1925 and Tina Modotti’s Bandelier, Corn and Sickle 1927 feature in a large presentation dedicated to the Still Life. The important role of documentary photography as a tool of mass communication is demonstrated in Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother 1936 and Walker Evans’ Floyde Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama 1936, from the Farm Security Administration project.

The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection is at Tate Modern from 10 November 2016 until 7 May 2017. It is curated by Shoair Mavlian with Simon Baker and Newell Harbin, Director of The Sir Elton John Photography Collection. The exhibition is accompanied by an exclusive audio tour of the exhibition featuring commentary from Sir Elton John, and a major new catalogue from Tate Publishing including an interview with Sir Elton John by Jane Jackson.

Press release from Tate Modern

 

Edward Weston. 'White Door, Hornitos, California' 1940

 

Edward Weston
White Door, Hornitos, California
1940
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

 

“We possess an extraordinary instrument for reproduction. But photography is much more than that. Today it is … bringing something entirely new into the world.”

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László Moholy-Nagy, 1932

 

 

Artists in the modernist period explored what the camera could do that the human eye alone could not, and how this could be harnessed to present a new modern perspective on the world. Artist and theorist László Moholy-Nagy proclaimed that photography could radically change not just what, but how we see. He called this the ‘new vision’. Rather than emulating other art forms, photography began to embrace qualities unique to itself, from its ability to reproduce the world in sharp detail to its capacity to create new realities through the manipulation of light, chemicals and paper.

This re-evaluation of photography coincided with a period of upheaval. War, revolution and economic depression led to mass movements of people and great social change. The idea of the avant-garde took hold and dada and surrealism emerged, challenging both the art and social norms that had come before. At the same time, new art schools such as the Bauhaus in Germany and Vkhutemas in Russia fostered the role of the professional artist and challenged divisions between art and design.

The Radical Eye is arranged thematically and charts a changing emphasis from the subject of an image to the visual qualities of the photograph itself, irrespective of what it represents. The many vintage prints in this exhibition – made soon after the photographs were taken – give a rare insight into the artists’ processes and creative decisions, and foreground the photograph as a physical object. All works are shown in the frames in which they are displayed in the home of Sir Elton John and David Furnish.

Together, the works in this exhibition show how photography pushed the boundaries of the possible, changing the world through the ways in which it was seen and understood. ‘Knowledge of photography is just as important as that of the alphabet. The illiterates of the future will be ignorant of the use of camera and pen alike,’ wrote Moholy-Nagy in 1927, foreseeing the cultural dominance of the photographic image. This extraordinary period still impacts how we, the photo-literate future, read and create images today.

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1937

 

Max Dupain
Sunbaker
1937
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

 

“They collect themselves. Carefully, as if tying a cravat, they compose their features. Insolent, serious and conscious of their looks they turn around to face the world.”

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From ‘Men before the Mirror’, published alongside portraits by Man Ray, 1934

 

 

Portraits

Modernist portraiture harnessed photography’s capacity to render an accurate likeness in clear, sharp focus and detail. But at the same time, artists and sitters pushed the conventions of portraiture with innovations in pose, composition and cropping.

Many of the portraits in this room are of artists, writers and musicians, giving a cross section of key cultural players of the time. Issues of control and collaboration arise particularly when the subject is an artist, raising the question of who is responsible for conveying the sitter’s persona. The modernist period also saw a boom of the illustrated press. Magazines reproduced photographic portraits of well-known figures which were instrumental in shaping their public images.

 

Alfred Stieglitz. 'Georgia O'Keeffe' 1922

 

Alfred Stieglitz
Georgia O’Keeffe
1922
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

Man Ray. 'Nusch Éluard' 1928

 

Man Ray
Nusch Éluard
1928
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

 

Nusch Éluard (born Maria Benz; June 21, 1906 – November 28, 1946) was a French performer, model and surrealist artist…

Nusch arrived in France as a stage performer, variously described as a small-time actress, a traveling acrobat, and a “hypnotist’s stooge”. She met Paul Éluard in 1930 working as a model, married him in 1934, produced surrealist photomontage and other work, and is the subject of “Facile,” a collection of Éluard’s poetry published as a photogravure book, illustrated with Man Ray’s nude photographs of her.

She was also the subject of several cubist portraits and sketches by Pablo Picasso in the late 1930s, and is said to have had an affair with him. Nusch worked for the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. She died in 1946 in Paris, collapsing in the street due to a massive stroke.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23) 'Actress Gloria Swanson' 1924

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973, emigrated to United States 1881, worked in France 1906-23)
Actress Gloria Swanson
1924
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
© 1924 Condé Nast Publications

 

Adolph de Meyer. 'For Elizabeth Arden (The Wax Head)' 1931

 

Adolph de Meyer
For Elizabeth Arden (The Wax Head)
1931
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Edward Weston. 'Igor Stravinsky' 1935

 

Edward Weston
Igor Stravinsky
1935
Silver gelatin print
© 1981 Center for Creative Photography

 

George Platt Lynes. 'A Forgotten Model' c. 1937

 

George Platt Lynes
A Forgotten Model
c. 1937
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Man Ray. 'Juliet and Margaret Nieman in Papier-Mâché Masks' c. 1945

 

Man Ray
Juliet and Margaret Nieman in Papier-Mâché Masks
c. 1945
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: © Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

Irving Penn. 'Salvador Dali in New York' 1947

 

Irving Penn
Salvador Dali in New York
1947
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: The Irving Penn Foundation

 

 

“The enemy of photography is convention, the fixed rules ‘how to do’. The salvation of photography comes from the experiment.”

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László Moholy-Nagy, c. 1940

 

 

Experiments

This was not a period of discovery but of rediscovery. Artists were rewriting the preceding century’s rules of photographic technique, harnessing ‘mistakes’ such as distortions and double exposures, or physically manipulating the printed image, cutting, marking and recombining photographs. These interventions could occur at any point in the process, from taking the image to the final print.

Used in portraiture, such experiments allowed for more psychologically charged representations. However, the transformative power of a particular technique often becomes much more important than the particular subject of the image. Above all, the rich creative possibilities of the photographic process come to the fore. While artists were seriously investigating the medium, the results are often surprising and playful.

 

Herbert Bayer. 'Self-Portrait' 1932

 

Herbert Bayer
Self-Portrait
1932
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection
© DACS 2016

 

Otto Umbehr. "Katz" - Cat 1927

 

Otto Umbehr
“Katz” – Cat
1927
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection
© Phyllis Umbehr/Galerie Kicken Berlin/DACS 2016

 

Josef Breitenbach. 'Patricia, New York' c. 1942

 

Josef Breitenbach
Patricia, New York
c. 1942
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Josef and Yaye Breitenbach Charitable Foundation, Courtesy Gitterman Gallery

 

 

“The camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh.”

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Edward Weston, 1924

 

 

Bodies

Experimental approaches to shooting, cropping and framing could transform the human body into something unfamiliar. Photographers started to focus on individual parts of the body, their unconventional crops drawing attention to shape and form, accentuating curves and angles. Fragmented limbs and flesh were depersonalised and could be treated like a landscape or still life, dissolving distinctions between different genres. Thanks to faster shutter speeds and new celluloid roll film, photographers could also freeze the body in motion outside of the studio for the first time, capturing dancers and swimmers with a clarity impossible for the naked eye.

 

André Kertész. 'Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary, 30 June 1917' 1917

 

André Kertész
Underwater Swimmer, Esztergom, Hungary, 30 June 1917
1917
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
© Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures

 

Rudolph Koppitz. 'Movement Study' 1925

 

Rudolph Koppitz
Movement Study
1925
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: ADAGP, Paris and DACS London 2016

 

Man Ray. 'Noire et Blanche' 1926

 

Man Ray
Noire et Blanche
1926
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

Man Ray (1890-1976) 'Glass Tears (Les Larmes)' 1932

 

Man Ray (1890-1976)
Glass Tears (Les Larmes)
1932
Gelatin silver print on paper
229 x 298 mm
Collection Elton John
© Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

Edward Weston. 'Nude' 1936

 

Edward Weston
Nude
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: 1981 Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Man Ray. 'Dora Maar' 1936

 

Man Ray
Dora Maar
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

Nino Migliori. 'Il Tuffatore' (The Diver) 1951

 

Nino Migliori
‘Il Tuffatore’ (The Diver)
1951
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

 

“The documentary photographer is trying to speak to you in terms of everyone’s experience.”

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Dorothea Lange, 1934

 

 

Documents

During the 1930s, photographers refined the formula for what we now know as social documentary. To compel the public to look at less palatable aspects of contemporary society they married creative manipulation with an appeal to viewers’ trust in the photograph as an objective visual record. This combination proved itself uniquely capable of eliciting empathy but is fraught with artistic and ethical complexity. These works highlight the vexed position of documentary photographs: historical evidence, instruments of propaganda and, latterly, works of art.

The development of new technology – particularly the portable camera and roll film – allowed photographers to capture spontaneous moments unfolding in the everyday world. Taking viewers into neighbourhoods where they might never set foot, street photography and documentary opened up new perspectives socially as much as visually.

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Migrant Mother' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange
Migrant Mother
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

Walker Evans. 'Floyde Burroughs, a cotton sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama' 1936

 

Walker Evans
Floyde Burroughs, a cotton sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Dorothea Lange. 'A young girl living in a shack town near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange
A young girl living in a shack town near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
1936
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Walker Evans. 'Christ or Chaos?' 1946

 

Walker Evans
Christ or Chaos?
1946
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Walker Evans Archives, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

“Contradictions of perspective. Contrasts of light. Contrasts of form. Points of view impossible to achieve in drawing and painting.”

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Aleksandr Rodchenko, 1920s

 

 

Objects, Perspectives, Abstractions

The subjects and approaches of modernist photography vary widely, but are united by a fascination with the medium itself. Every image asks what photography is capable of and how it can be pushed further. This final room brings together three interlinked approaches. It shows the still life genre reimagined by photographers who used the technical capabilities of the camera to reveal the beauty of everyday things. Objects captured at unconventional angles or extreme close-up become strange, even unrecognisable.

A similar effect of defamiliarisation was accomplished by taking photographs from radically new perspectives, positioning a camera at the point of view of the ‘worm’s eye’ or ‘bird’s eye’. This created extreme foreshortening that transformed photographs from descriptive images of things into energetic compositions hovering between abstraction and representation.

Abstraction pushes against photography’s innate ability to record objectively. Radical techniques such as cameraless image-making simplified the medium to the point of capturing the play of light on photosensitive paper. By stripping it back to its most basic components, artists celebrated photography, not as a tool for reproduction, but as a creative medium capable of producing new imagery.

 

Alexander Rodchenko. 'Shukov Tower' 1920

 

Alexander Rodchenko
Shukov Tower
1920
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection
© A. Rodchenko & V. Stepanova Archive, DACS, RAO 2016

 

Edward Steichen. 'A Bee on a Sunflower' c. 1920

 

Edward Steichen
A Bee on a Sunflower
c. 1920
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Man Ray. "Rayograph" 1923

 

Man Ray
“Rayograph”
1923
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
Photograph: Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016

 

André Kertész. 'Mondrian's Glasses and Pipe' 1926

 

André Kertész
Mondrian’s Glasses and Pipe
1926
Gelatin silver print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection
© Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures

 

Tina Modotti. 'Bandelier, Corn and Sickle' 1927

 

Tina Modotti
Bandelier, Corn and Sickle
1927
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

Werner Mantz. 'Staircase Ursuliner Lyzeum Cologne 1928'

 

Werner Mantz
Staircase Ursuliner Lyzeum Cologne 1928
1928
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

Margaret Bourke-White. 'George Washington Bridge' 1933

 

Margaret Bourke-White
George Washington Bridge
1933
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photography Collection

 

 

László Moholy-Nagy
View from the Berlin tower
1928
Silver gelatin print
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection

 

Margaret de Patta. 'Ice Cube Tray with Marbles and Rice' 1939

 

Margaret de Patta
Ice Cube Tray with Marbles and Rice
1939
The Sir Elton John Photographic Collection
© Estate of Margaret de Patta

 

 

Tate Modern
Bankside
London SE1 9TG
United Kingdom

Opening hours:
Sunday –  Thursday 10.00 – 18.00
Friday – Saturday 10.00 – 22.00

Tate Modern website

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10
Jan
11

Review: ‘Luminous Cities: Photographs of the Built Environment’ at NGV International, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 22nd October 2010 – 13th March 2011

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A delightful exhibition of photographs of the built environment at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. The exhibition contains some interesting photographs from the collection including the outstanding Coin de la rue Valette et Pantheon, 5e arrondissement, matinee de mars by Eugene Atget taken two years before his death (1925, printed 1978, see below) that simply takes your breath away.

Atget was my hero when I started to study photography in the late 1980s and he remains my favourite photographer. His use of light coupled with his understanding of how to organise space within the pictorial frame is exemplary (note the darkness of the right-hand wall as it supports the integrity of the rest of the image, as it leads your eye to that wonderful space between the buildings, the shaft of light falling on the ground, the blank wall topped by an arrow leading the eye upwards to the misty dome!). The ability to place his large format camera and tripod in just the right position, the perfect height and angle, to allow the subject to reveal itself it all it’s glory is magical: “Atget’s interest in the variable play between nature and art through minute changes in the camera’s angle, or as functions of the effects of light and time of day, is underscored in his notations of the exact month and sometimes even the hour when the pictures were taken.”1 Two other immense works in the exhibition are New York at Night by Berenice Abbott (1932, printed c.1975) and the incredible multiple exposure The Maypole, Empire State Building, New York by Edward Steichen (1932, printed 1972).

The only disappointment to the exhibition is the lack of vintage prints, a fair portion of the exhibition including the three prints mentioned above being later prints made from the original negatives. I wonder what vintage prints of these images would look like?

The purchasing of non-vintage prints was the paradigm for the collection of international photographs early in the history of the Department of Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria and was seen as quite acceptable at the time. The paradigm was set by Athol Shmith in 1973 on his visit to Paris and London.

“Typically for the times, Shmith did not choose to acquire vintage prints, that is, photographs made shortly after the negative was taken. While vintage prints are most favoured by collectors today, in the 1970s vintage prints supervised by the artists were considered perfectly acceptable and are still regarded as a viable, if less impressive option now.”2

Some museums including the NGV preferred to acquire portfolios of modern reprints as a speedy way of establishing a group of key images. As noted in the catalogue essay to 2nd Sight: Australian Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria by Dr Isobel Crombie, Senior Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria, the reason for preferring the vintage over the modern print “is evident when confronted with modern and original prints: differences in paper, scale and printing styles make the original preferable.”3 The text also notes that this sensibility, the consciousness of these differences slowly evolved in the photographic world and, for most, the distinctions were not a matter of concern even though the quality of the original photograph was not always maintained.

This is stating the case too strongly. Appreciation of the qualities of vintage prints was already high in the period of the mid-1970s – early 1980s most notably at institutions such as The Museum of Modern Art, a collection visited by photography curators of the NGV. Size and scale of the vintage prints tend to be much smaller than later prints making them closer to the artists original intentions, while the paper the prints are made on, the contrast and colour of the prints also varies remarkably. Other mundane but vitally important questions may include these: who printed the non-vintage photograph, who authorised the printing and how many non-vintage copies of the original negative were made, none of which are answered when the prints are displayed.

I vividly remember seeing a retrospective of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work in Edinburgh at the Dean Gallery, National Gallery of Scotland in 2005, the largest retrospective of Cartier-Bresson’s work ever staged in Britain with over 200 photographs. Three large rooms were later 1970s reprints of some of his photographs, about 20″ x 24″ in size, on cold, blue photographic paper. One room, however, was full of his original prints from the 1920s and 30s. The contrast could not have been different: the vintage prints were very small, intense, subtle, printed on brown toned paper, everything that you would want those jewel-like images to be, the vision of the artist intensified; the larger prints diluted that vision until the images seemed to almost waste away despite their size.

Although never stated openly I believe that one of the reasons for the purchase of non-vintage prints was the matter of cost, the Department of Photography never being given the budget to buy the prints that it wanted to in the 1970s – early 1980s, the collection of photography not being a priority for the NGV at that time. In other words by buying non-vintage prints in the 1970s you got more “bang for your buck” even when the cost of vintage prints was relatively low. Unfortunately the price of vintage prints then skyrocketed in the 1980s putting them well outside the budget of the Department. While Dr Crombie acknowledges the preponderance of American works in the collection over European and Asian works she also notes that major 20th century photographers that you would expect to be in the collection are not and blames this lack “on the massive increases in prices for international photography that began in the 1980s and which largely excluded the NGV from the market at this critical time.”4

The policy of purchasing non-vintage prints has now ceased at the National Gallery of Victoria.

The purchasing of non-vintage prints and the paucity of purchasing vintage prints by master photographers during the formative decade of the collection of international photographs in the Department of Photography (1970 – 1980) is understandable in hindsight but today seems like a golden opportunity missed. While the collection contains many fine photographs due to the diligence of early photographic curators (notably Jennie Boddington), the miniscule nature of the budget of the department in those early years when vintage prints were relatively cheap and affordable (a Paul Caponigro print could be purchased for $200-300 for example) did not allow them to purchase the photographs that the collection desperately needed. With one vintage print by a master of photography now fetching many thousands of dollars the ability to fill gaps in the collection in the future is negligible (according to Dr Crombie) – so we must celebrate and enjoy the photographs that are in the collection such as those in Luminous Cities: Photographs of the Built Environment.

Many thankx to Jemma Altmeier for her help and to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Eugene Atget
French 1857–1927
Coin de la rue Valette et Pantheon, 5e arrondissement, matinee de mars
1925, printed 1978
gelatin silver photograph
17.8 x 23.7 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1980

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Stephen Thompson
active throughout Europe (1850s–80s)
Grande Canale, Venice
c.1868
albumen silver photograph
21.2 x 29.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1988

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England
active in England 1860s
Houses of Parliament, London
1860s
albumen silver photograph
18.5 x 24.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission funds, 1988

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“On 22 October the National Gallery of Victoria will open Luminous Cities, a fascinating exhibition that examines the various ways photographers have viewed cities as historical sites, bustling modern hubs and architectural utopias since the nineteenth century.

The great cities of the world are vibrant creative centres in which the built environment is often as inspirational as the activities of its citizens, and, since the nineteenth century photographers have creatively explored the idea of the city.

This exhibition, drawn from the collection of the NGV, considers various ways in which photographers in the 19th and 20th centuries have viewed cities as historical sites, bustling modern metropolises and architectural utopias. These lyrical images describe the physical attributes of cities, offer insights into the creative imaginations of architects and photographers and embody the zeitgeist of their times.

Frances Lindsay, Deputy Director, NGV said: “Through the work of a range of photographers Luminous Cities will take viewers on a fascinating journey around the world, into the streets, buildings and former lives of great international cities.

“Drawn from the NGV collection, Luminous Cities includes works by renowned photographers Eugene Atget, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Berenice Abbott, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Bill Brandt, Lee Freidlander and Grant Mudford amongst many others.

The exhibition will also extend into our contemporary gallery space where an outstanding selection of works by celebrated contemporary artists such as Bill Henson, Andreas Gursky and Jon Cattapan will be on display,” said Ms Lindsay.

Through examples from the mid 19th century, Luminous Cities explores the relationship between photographer, architect and archaeologist with photos of Athens, Rome and Pompeii. This was also a time when great cities such as London and Paris underwent unprecedented renewal and expansion, photography served to document new constructions and also presented heroic, inspirational visions of new cities emerging from old.

Susan van Wyk, Curator, Photography, NGV said: “The works on display in Luminous Cities describe the physical attributes of cities, offer insights into the creative imaginations of architects and photographers, and embody the zeitgeist of their times.”

New York, one of the great 20th century cities, was a captivating subject for generations of photographers. Through the work of architects and the images photographers made of the city, New York became synonymous with its skyline. The images of renowned photographers including Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand and Berenice Abbott show the pictorial possibilities of the modern city in photographs that embody the dynamism of the city that never sleeps.

The contemporary art works included in Luminous Cities explore the creative ways in which artists imagine and represent the cityscape. Vast glittering panoramas taken from bustling urban communities, sprawling architectural structures and fictitious landscapes all combine to reveal fascinating insights into both physical and psychological geographies.

Ms van Wyk said: “At the end of the 20th century a much cooler, more abstracted strain of photography emerged. Photographs in the exhibition from this period range from the formalism of the 1970s to more recent cinematic visions of the nocturnal city.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria website

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Lee Freidlander
American born 1934
Stamford, Connecticut
1973, printed c.1977
gelatin silver photograph
18.9 x 28.3 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1977
© Lee Friedlander

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In the decades following the Second World War the idea of ‘the city’, notably in work of American, European and Australian photographers, came to symbolize the modern condition, the best and worst of contemporary life. This ambiguous stance on the city is exemplified in the work of American photographer Lee Friedlander whose photographs of seemingly ordinary urban scenes are at once amusing and slightly disturbing. In his 1973 photograph Stamford, Connecticut, the banal vernacular architecture of suburban shopping street forms the backdrop to a peculiar scene where shoppers are ‘stalked’ by a statue of first world war sniper. Despite its witty elements, this image has a somewhat despairing tone. The women walking along this rather bleak street are isolated and anonymous, ciphers for the worst aspects of contemporary city life.

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Grant Mudford
born Australia 1944, lived United States 1977–
New York
1975
gelatin silver photograph
33.8 x 49.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1977
© Grant Mudford

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A more neutral view of the contemporary city can be seen in the work of Australian photographer Grant Mudford. After moving to the US in 1970s, Mudford continued to photograph the built environment. Familiar with the work of Lee Friedlander, and citing Walker Evans as an influence, Mudford’s photographs continue a tradition of photographing the city as an empty backdrop devoid of the bustle of human activity. In his 1975 Untitled photograph of a truck depot in New York Mudford simplifies what could be a chaotic scene to the verge of abstraction.

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2. Crombie, Isobel. “Creating a Collection: International Photography at the National Gallery of Victoria,” in Re_View: 170 years of Photography. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2009, p.9.

3. Crombie, Isobel. Second sight: Australian photography in the National Gallery of Victoria. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2002, p.10.

4. Op.cit. p.10.

.

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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